Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday, 7 August 2015

“It is ever so much easier to be good if your clothes are fashionable.”

At the risk of seeming somewhat trivial, one tiny element of the Kids Company debacle has stuck in my mind.

Much of Ms Batmanghelidjh's recent rhetoric has centred round assertions that her organisation is aimed at helping children who are suffering untold amounts of abuse in the home.
The catastrophic abandonment of children who are suffering is a testimony to our collective moral failing. I hope one day the childhood maltreatment wound, that is so deeply hurting this country, will heal.
That being so, it seems odd that a posse of mothers (see Ambush Predator) has voluntarily come forward to state that their children are regular 'clients', parading for the media their anger at the loss of an organisation which, they say, provides activity holidays, homework clubs and meals for their children and 'gives them clothes'.

This last point is reminiscent of the Bristol Council employees using Council funds to buy Ralph Lauren gifts and Ugg boots for children in care; the mindset responsible can be clearly seen in in the comment responding to criticism thus: " I can't believe that people on here begrudge a Christmas present for someone in a children's home".

Straw men aside, there is something flawed about the whole notion; it is not only irresponsible to use public money in this way but also surely unrealistic - if not downright immoral - to encourage a taste for and expectation of designer goods in young people who will, in the near future, have to manage a limited budget.

With that in mind, I invite you to consider the words of Camila Batmanghelidjh in an interview with the Design Museum:
The only time I buy clothes is for the children of Kids Company - many of them don't have any parents or family members. I like to buy personally for them for Christmas and their birthdays. I also buy stuff if I see something that would suit them. 
The scale suggests this is be paid for not out of her own pocket (funded by the charity in any case) but from donations secured for the welfare of vulnerable children. Doubtless the words 'self-esteem' will figure somewhere in the justification, given the source of these gifts:
Christmas Eve, I am usually between John Lewis and Selfridges buying everything that's in the sales...
John Lewis? Selfridges? Even at sale prices, I would have been unlikely to buy clothes there for my own children. Such shops are surely well beyond the (legitimate) means of most people living in the areas where Kids Company plies its trade.
...because on Christmas Day we have some 4,000* children, young people and vulnerable adults coming to us for lunch, and I like to give all the ones who don't have family a big bag of clothes as presents.
How nice! And, judging by the mother bewailing the loss of free clothing on the TV news, it's not only the ones without families who benefited from this largesse. There's benefit for Ms Batmanghelidjh too; a gratifying glow of sentiment:
They get so excited when they open them, it always brings tears to my eyes. 
Funnily enough, my eyes are watering too at the potential cost of several hundred 'big bags of clothes' from Selfridges  - to say nothing of the extra shopping trips 'for their birthdays' and impulse buys 'if I see something that would suit them'. 

How many thousands a year, would you say? Perhaps a drop in Kids Company's multi-million pound ocean, but a significant one nonetheless, it serves to illustrate, however benevolent her intentions, just how impractical and naive a clothes-obsessed millionaire's daughter - 'Every day for me is a fashion treat' - can be when entrusted with other people's money.



* Really? Who does the catering? And at what cost? Or is this another example of numerical sleight-of-hand, like the still-ubiquitous assertion (included in the Design Museum piece) that Kids Company 'reaches 36,000 children a year with therapeutic care' - a figure since revealed to include the classmates, parents and teachers of any child in receipt of Kids Company services.

9 comments:

  1. Nowt new here. Back in the 70's a number of local authorities in our area supplied footwear for kids on free school meals. They were traditional, solid, well made shoes bought jointly in bulk from factory so at low cost. But many parents were up in arms that they could not have the fashionable new trainers These were costly and lasted a lot less than the shoes. So the politicians had the bright idea of giving vouchers at the value of the shoes. There was then a flood of criticism that the parents could not get the trainers free and also the local authority expected them to last a long time, hence the Councils were being mean. The came the lady with the handbag and the end of free shoes.

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  2. I'm reminded of superior ladies visiting the poor to hand out alms and advice in a Jane Austen novel. They did it with their own money of course - and the poor were poor.

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  3. Demetrius, I didn't know about that, though I can't say I'm surprised. these days, they might even find a lawyer to take the case to court - rather like the 'Top Gear' programme where the crew bought a used car in the USA and, at the end of filming, tried to donate it to a charity in New Orleans, only to be threatened with legal action because it was not the model specified in the initial e-mail.

    AKH, apart from Christian charity, there was, I suppose, a long-term benefit in ensuring that your family's future workforce was taken care of.

    Victorian novels often mention children accompanying their mothers on these visits to learn at first hand what should be done and how the poor live; I can't help feeling that Ms Batmanghelidjh, lacking any first-hand experience of either growing up short of money or childhood in the UK, may not have been the best person to dictate the day-to-day running of the charity, however successful her fund-raising activities.

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  4. I'm intrigued by the name - Ms Batman.

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  5. JH, I feel that she might have had a far less benevolent attitude had her parents, on their arrival in Britain, not placed her in a select girls' boarding school. While girls can be spectacularly catty, they don't, by and large, tend to descend to mockery of names in the same way that boys do.

    Had she gone to the local comp and experienced the inevitable playground teasing, the outcome might have been very different indeed...

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  6. Superb!

    I knew there was more to come - first Henry Porter lets the cat out of the bag that KC employed his daughter, and now this:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3192918/Kids-Company-trustee-s-children-charity-s-payroll-String-foreign-trips-daughter-hired-32-500-music-ordinator.html

    Of course she was feted by the great and good - she was (as big charities often are) a reliable source of income for one's offspring!

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  7. *boggles*

    To paraphrase Wilde:
    "To employ one of your children, Mr Handover, may be regarded as recruitment; to employ both looks like nepotism."

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  8. When the 'Meedjah' along with the 'Great and Good' talk of poverty, and 'poor people, I am reminded of the teacher in this impossibly-exclusive school in Beverly Hills who decided that the kids in his class needed a lesson in reality, so he made them all write an essay on 'poor people' known to the family of the child doing the essay.

    One gem arrived back, and it read:-

    There once was a very poor family; the father was poor, the mother was very poor, the children were all in poverty, and the Butler was poorest of all!

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    Replies
    1. It's all relative, of course - and there's nothing the Great and Good like better than a suitably photogenic and media-worthy opportunity to show their altruistic credentials.

      For a literary parallel, it's worth looking at Zola's 'Germinal', where a relatively prosperous family secure the attentions and generosity of wealthy benefactors while their less ingratiating or picturesque fellows are left to starve in dire circumstances.

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